Buying fake perfume and cosmetics 'not a victimless crime', experts warn

Counterfeit beauty products being illegally shipped to UK pose serious health risks and even fund organised crime.

Experts are warning against buying counterfeit cosmetics in the lead up to Christmas and Boxing Day sales.

In the last year, over 45,000 fake beauty products and perfumes were caught being illegally shipped into the UK – many of which can be known to contain substitute ingredients such as animal urine, arsenic and other harmful substances.

Alice Scott, creative director of Scott’s Apothecary, runs workshops to let people make their own luxury perfume.

She is also hoping to educate consumers on how to spot fakes.

Alice told STV News: “I think it’s really important when we do our workshops we talk about what to look for, what are you smelling, have you tried it on your skin, has it lasted? Do you get that amazing top note and then it’s gone?

“Or is the packaging looking right, where are you buying it from? All these things are a really important part of our workshop because I think it helps people understand.

A rising number of counterfeit perfumes are being illegally shipped to the UK (Photo By Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)

“A lot of people just don’t know, they don’t even think actually I’ve not checked that it doesn’t look quite right, the packaging’s a bit funny.

“They might just think that’s a really good price.’Great, I love this brand, I’ll go for it’.

“But actually if you get people just talking about it and then suddenly they’re like, ‘oh yeah I didn’t even think about that,that’s a really obvious thing to look for.'”

Between September 2022 and October this year, almost 11,600 litres of counterfeit cosmetics were seized by UK Border Force according to a freedom of information request.

But experts believe this is just “a drop in the ocean” compared to the reality of fakes coming into the country.

SnapDragon founder Rachel Jones warns people to be extra vigilant when shopping this festive season.

Snapdragon founder Rachel Jones

Her company monitors the internet to take down websites and apps selling counterfeit goods across the world.

“We need to encourage people not to buy fakes,” she said.

“We appreciate that due to the cost of living, people are looking for a bargain. But it’s important to be sensible and sceptical of a very good bargain, you see. If it’s too good, it’s probably not a genuine product.

“The biggest problem is health and safety; people can have rashes that last for months. Some of these products contain carcinogens.

“The real worry is what’s coming into this country and not being stopped. Only 2% of incoming containers are inspected by Border Force; their priorities are people, armaments and drugs.

“It’s generating a significant amount of money for illicit trade including people trafficking, prostitution, drugs and terrorism.

“We need to raise awareness among the general population that it is not a victimless crime; businesses go bust; people go bust; these products are often made in horrific conditions, sometimes with child labour.”

Counterfeit perfumes can pose a serious risk to people's health, experts warn

With cosmetics heavily regulated in the UK, knock-off products can pose serious health risks.

Chemist Jo Chidley is co-founder of independent cosmetics brand Beauty Kitchen and recycling initiative Reposit.

“Beauty is a massive global industry. Everyone of all ages and cultures as beauty and personal care products,” she said.

“Ingredients are tested to make sure they are legally compliant and wont impact human health.

[But counterfeiters] have a cart blanche to use whatever they want when they are not living within that legal framework.

“Counterfeit items can contain heavy metals, lead and mercury and even scarier ingredients, like arsenic.

“Your skin is there to protect you. Putting ingredients on to your skin can cause very wide-reaching reactions, such as redness, spots, rashes and other insidious long-term effects.

“If something seems too cheap and easy, it probably is counterfeit.”

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